The Exploration of Digital Signing and Blockchain

Signing contracts started to be a standard practice around the 17th century. People would meet in a location and agreed on a contract with their signs as proof of that understanding.

 Four centuries later, with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been able to witness a massive increase in the use of technology. Jobs that were once only possible at the workspace have been moved to the comfort of our homes. Grocery stores have been replacing physical cashiers, with machines greeting customers at self-checkout stations. Filling a credit card application is now reduced to a few checkboxes online. Indeed, with the likes of DocuSign and PandaDoc, even physical contracts have become outdated; digital applications make this activity easier and safer than ever before. All of these innovations have moved us further deep to depend on technologies.

However, a key question remains. Digital Signatures have become a “new normal”— but how reliable is this new practice? One of the main concerns about this type of electronic signing is what is the guarantee that the customer’s information is safe. Blockchain technology must be used in all of these programs that plan to continue to store their client’s information for signing important documents like buying a house, business contracts, citizenship applications, and others, to offer the best type of protection.

Blockchain is a system of recording data, characterized by its intricate and safe design – as a distributed ledger with no central administrator, it can be neither hacked nor manipulated. This type of structure is precisely what is needed for the implementation of electronic signatures, documents where the customers are relying on the safety and protection of their identity. Even though this type of technology has proven to be reliable, there could be individuals who think they would be able to hack or “manipulate” the data. The problem is that for them to be successful and not raise suspicions they would have to change every block in the chain, therefore making this mission almost impossible (“What is Blockchain”). 

Using blockchain for electronic signing also means more privacy for the parties involved. One unique characteristic provided by Blockchain is transparency; the elimination of middlemen promotes speed and confidentiality in transactions (Sickendick, “Blockchain Use in Software Code Signing & Malware c2”).  After this transaction is done then it will be stored with a timestamp where it will prove its existence and encrypted and chained to other blocks as well, then “every node in the network will verify the conditions of the submitted transaction and check all other nodes’ work to agree on a correct state” (Tam, “Digital Signatures in Blockchains: The Present and Future”). 

All of these measures taken for digital signing with blockchain are fair and necessary to offer an electronic signing service where breaches and data tampering have almost no chance of happening. For example, someone needs to do a transaction, because of the logic of blockchain, the user and the second person have two separate keys that allow them to sign and approve this transaction. They will each use their keys to sign and once it’s done encrypted and stored. This system makes sure that the people signing are those who are involved in the transaction, and not someone who is trying to falsify their signature.   

Even though this form of saving data is important for Blockchain, the cryptography is equally as important. What now may be good for the transactions, in a few years these algorithms will be easily solved by anyone who tries, therefore the constant growth of different types of cryptology algorithms is imperative to keep electronic signing as private as possible. Currently, the most popular cryptographic hash function —this is a function that takes information and encodes it into a string of letters and numbers— is SHA256 (Wang, “Cryptographic Primitives in Blockchains”), for right now it is secure and reliable, but if it is not updated, how long could this hash function be used? This function would only be able to be used until someone figures out the algorithm and strats using it for their own benefit, therefore the evolution of these algorithms are the key to an undecodable storage of information.   

Even though Blockchain has great potential, it is still developing and needs to mature as it has been active for only a few years. The way that this system works consumes too much energy, which at the end is one of the worst downsides it has. Once it receives a new transaction, the miners (who solve the problems) start working and take too much energy to complete their job (Gwyneth, “Top Disadvantages of Blockchain Technology”). 

Another potential problem of this system is their decentralized idea. This principle is good because you do not have a centralized entity with all the power like a bank, however, this means that the user is its own bank and therefore they have their own key.  This key protects the user’s information from others but, that also means you need to be able to remember the key and not share it with others. If the person forgets the key then this person is not allowed to get back in and their information could be lost in the system (Gwyneth, “Top Disadvantages of Blockchain Technology”). This last problem is popular between the oldest generations as they have not been as exposed to technology as other generations, and therefore could result in a loss of their transactions that could include important documents such as job contracts, credit card applications and others.

Electronically signing important documents has brought the possibility of saving time on driving to the meeting place and signing physically a document when you could do it in the comfort of your own computer. It is a commodity that has definitely revolutionalized the whole process that before we did not think was possible; it has come to stay. The issue that will continue throughout the years will be how to create a more reliable, private, and faster system to store clients’ information and avoid its theft or tampering. Blockchain offers the start of a great data storing system that accompanied with developed cryptography algorithms will be able to become the next step that will be needed to secure the client’s privacy.

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